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Bridging the cultural gap

Thunder Bay consultant brings a positive vibe and open dialogue to diversity training

It's been a mission years in the making for Cindy Crowe. Now her vision to help empower people is attracting many individuals and visitors.

The entrepreneur and counsellor has been helping to build connections between Indigenous and non-Indigenous groups in Thunder Bay, northwestern Ontario and beyond.

It has grown from her home to a storefront in Fort William in the city's south end, where she runs two ventures: One Tribe Indigenous Worldview and Diversity Coaching and Blue Sky Community Healing Centre.

“We have a contract with the Ministry of Environment and Climate Change to train their staff (through One Tribe),” she said. “We provide training for any groups anywhere in the province. They can come to us, or we can arrange to go to them, whatever they need.”

Their teaching process includes open dialogue that is designed to promote mutual respect of all races, genders, sexual orientations, ages, religious and political beliefs and physical ability, to name a few.

One Tribe provides coaching for groups to gain a better understanding of First Nations' cultures.

Crowe said many of the clients include mining and forestry companies who are negotiating with bands to forge business deals and seek permission to operate on their traditional land.

Among the services, she offers courses in improving diversity consciousness, introduction to the Indigenous community, economic and holistic benefits to working with the Indigenous community and land use planning.

It is of great importance for people to understand cultural significance and customs to keep dialogue open, she said, whether it be for business transactions or social work.

Blue Sky Community Healing Centre hosts a variety of different activities, from drumming and healing sessions, to community painting where people are invited to paint on canvas, regardless whether they have any experience.

“We have people that come in and amaze themselves at the talent they never thought they had,” Crowe said. “They amaze me. The good energy they give off, it's calming for everyone in the building.”

When people come in, she said, all are welcome, but it is expected for them to participate in the activities that are offered.

“I started with Grey Wolf Teaching Lodge, and all of this is the natural progression of that original vision I had years ago,” she said.

“We've created this wonderful space for people to come in, participate and learn about positive subjects.”

They work with everyone from residential school survivors and inter-generational effects through a grant from the National Indian Brotherhood.

“It is very reassuring to know they chose us to deliver programming to help people heal,” she said.

When she moved into the former dance studio on Victoria Avenue East, it required some work.

But Crowe, her staff, and volunteers have turned it into a bright community spot for anyone to come in and enjoy a hot drink.

“This building is owned by Roberto Holdings. He (Aldo) tells us he's very proud of what we do,” she said.

The entire south end of Thunder Bay, she said, is slowly transforming as more businesses move into what used to be abandoned storefronts.

“We've seen a few come and go, but they've all been good neighbours and we worked well together,” Crowe said. “Confederation College used to have their learning centre here, as well as a gym, but they left.

“Our presence and the presence of many other good businesses is helping to attract more renters to the area. We shine like a bright light in a two-block radius.”

The one dark spot still persisting, she said, is the Victoriaville Mall. But with the efforts of the other businesses, she feels a change in atmosphere on the block.

In the future, Crowe said she is starting the process of having a lodge somewhere in the countryside, with a sweat lodge, teaching centre, cabins, and several acres of land. 

“I'm working with landowners in the area to set something up, this is part of my mission,” she explained. “It will be for ceremonial purposes, courses, or just anyone who wants to spend some time in the wilderness to heal themselves.”